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Campaign Mug Shot

Pitching your campaign

Amid several other distractions, I've been progressing sporadically with updating my Trid campaign, for use with Chimera Basic. It's a revised revision, meaning that what I had written and posted three months ago is no longer entirely accurate.

I have a number of new ideas for the campaign, most of which break away from the setting's original incarnation: high-fantasy D&D based on B/X and the Rules Cyclopedia. Having devised a more cynical world view in the years since, and being eager to incorporate new elements into my game, I'm going for more of a fantasy/sci-fi mix.

But that can mean a lot of different things, depending on your own gaming background, literary experience, movie preferences, etc. So what about something along the lines of an elevator pitch for the campaign?

Elevator Pitches

The details of an elevator pitch are explained elsewhere, but the concept refers to an idea or proposal that one could deliver in the time it takes to ride an elevator. (If you work on the 2nd floor like me, you're screwed, because you have only about 8 seconds. But if you're lucky enough to have an office with a view, or you're one of the Jeffersons, you could have as long as a minute.)

The idea works well for a new campaign because you want to provide your audience (including potential players) with a quick summary that conveys the setting's trappings, what characters they might play, and what kinds of dangers those characters could face.

Of course, some settings are easier to describe than others, and that depends largely on how well-known your campaign's foundation is. As a thought experiment try to describe a book or movie to someone who hasn't seen it. For example, if you say "Sherlock Holmes is about a master sleuth solving crimes in Victorian London." Pretty easy, mostly because Sherlock Holmes is a well-known character. But even if audience members weren't familiar with Holmes, chances are they have a decent idea of Victorian London in their heads, and the resulting imagery forms a suitable basis for other trappings.

On the other hand, saying "Star Wars is about the struggle of an oppressed people against an evil empire," is true, but incomplete--it doesn't provide enough information for listeners to get a picture of the setting or the characters in it, or what those characters can do. No mention of space opera, star ships, Jedi Knights, droids, or the Force. Not that you couldn't (or wouldn't) add these details, but you have to do so in a coherent manner if you want to avoid confusion and keep your audience focused.

The Campaign Pitch

As a result of persistent and unmanageable OCD, I propose a 3-paragraph format for Campaign Pitches:

  • Paragraph #1: History, or what caused the setting to become what it is today? Don't worry about places, names, or dates. This is about truly earth-changing events in the setting's pre- or ancient history.
  • Paragraph #2: The Current State, or what's going on in the world as a result of the history you described in paragraph #1?
  • Paragraph #3: The Role of Adventurers, or what do characters get up to in the current state you describe in paragraph #2?

I suggest limiting the entire pitch to between 150 and 200 words. And, unless you're creating a campaign set in an existing book or movie, resist the temptation to invoke the name of said book or movie as a descriptor. In other words, if you're creating a space opera campaign, don't describe it as being "like Star Wars" unless it's actually set in the Star Wars universe.

Anyone reading the pitch should have a good idea of what types of characters they can play, what sort of missions they might undertake, and what kinds of dangers the environment holds. Nothing in great detail, but certainly enough to build upon as players generate characters, explore the setting, and get a few adventures under their belts.

Trid Revised

Here's an example of the pitch for Trid:

In the Before Times, man dwelt under the Elders, a wise and prosperous race of demi-gods. But man’s grasp exceeded his reach, and in his desire for power and independence, he unleashed The Spread, which killed or mutated whomever it touched. Only those who sought safety in the depths of the earth survived. Man spent the Lost Years underground. After generations, man emerged to find the world much changed.

It is the New Time, and man struggles to reclaim the world he abandoned ages ago. Savage perils, twisted by The Spread, lay claim to the surface and infest man’s abandoned ruins, the earth yields little, and the Elders are gone. Warlords and sorcerers--wielding powers gleaned from The Spread--fight for resources, surrounded by rapacious sub-men, mutated predators, deviant survivor cults, and disciples of the Farflung, abstruse alien visitors of unknown origin or intent.

In this broken world, adventurers seek the employ of brutal warlords and aberrant sorcerers, solicit the favour of squabbling survivor cults, or scour the wilderness for fertile land. Life is mean, dismal, and grasping, but for these bold and vainglorious few, better a foolish risk than resignation; better to die commanding your fate than to live in fear.

But the real proof is in the pudding. What images does this pitch conjure up for you?

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  1. deimos3428
    October 20th, 2010 at 14:13 | #1

    I am going to be rapid in my analysis and therefore overly harsh, so please don’t take offense. Just imagine I’m shouting over my shoulder as I step off the elevator after hearing the pitch, and head for the office. Also imagine a very hot redhead secretary, while we’re at it.

    “I like the pitch, but you’d do well to tighten up the wording. And you’ve either got a German Accent or you’ve come down with a case of Capitalized Termitis. Anyway, call me friday… we’ll do lunch. Morning, Lois.”

  2. October 20th, 2010 at 15:36 | #2

    @deimos3428 : Yeah, tighten. But German?

  3. October 20th, 2010 at 16:58 | #3

    It actually seems to have the vibe of a fantasy post-apocalypse setting… sort of reminiscent of the post-cataclysm era of Dragonlance. Or more accurately, take Fallout and apply it to a fantasy setting. Survivors emerge from the Vault to discover the changes in the new land from the time before the world broke…

  4. deimos3428
    October 21st, 2010 at 10:25 | #4

    @Erin D. Smale
    I was referring to the Capitalization of every Noun in the Sentence — as They do in German. ;)

    It may be appropriate or even correct to do so in English, but excessive capitalized nouns just reads like a glossary: Before Times, Elders, The Spread, New Time, Farflung. Find ways to rewrite the paragraphs without including so many, particularly the two-word terms.

  5. October 21st, 2010 at 12:23 | #5

    @deimos3428 : Even if they’re Proper Nouns?

    Interesting point, because I see what you’re saying. On the other hand, these are (or will be) important elements of the Campaign. Would it not be important to include Them in the Pitch?

  6. October 21st, 2010 at 12:33 | #6

    I see no problem with the pitch, Erin. I would capitalise each “the” used with such nouns to highlight that they are Proper Nouns, and these will be referred to consistantly throughout the setting. Technically, the “glossary” should be: The Before Times, The Elders, The Spread, The Lost Years, The New Time, The Farflung – these read more like section headings or a contents page than a glossary, which I believe is kind of the point for an elevator pitch.

  7. October 21st, 2010 at 13:16 | #7

    @Da’ Vane : I think that was more along the lines of my intent. In a wiki format, for example, these terms would have their own articles.

    But I take Deimos’ point – it may be grammatically correct, but perhaps jarring to read.

    BTW, “fantasy post-apocalypse” is spot-on. Can’t speak for similarities to Dragonlance or Fallout, but I like the idea of man rediscovering a world he ruined, and having The Spread ultimately responsible for strange monsters, humanoid races, and spell-casting ability. Not sure how advanced man was when he went underground, but the pitch gives me enough wiggle-room to think it over.

  8. deimos3428
    October 21st, 2010 at 16:01 | #8

    Having slightly more time to give it a read over, I would humbly submit the following as my suggested modification, reasoning provided below:

    It is the New Time, and man struggles to reclaim the world he abandoned ages ago. Savage perils lay claim to the surface and infest lost ruins, the earth yields little, and the Elders are gone.

    In this broken world, adventurers seek the employ of brutal warlords and aberrant sorcerers, solicit the favour of squabbling survivor cults, or scour the wilderness for fertile land. Life is mean, dismal, and grasping, but for these bold and vainglorious few, better a foolish risk than resignation; better to die commanding your fate than to live in fear.

    Obvious points:
    1. I cut it down significantly, in particular the preamblish history of the first paragraph. Important info, but not necessary to reveal immediately. Keep people wondering, by way hint rather than explanation.

    2. Removed almost all of the Capitalized Terms. Preference being to ease people into the concepts a few at a time. They know this is the New Time, so there logically must be a Before Times even if not explicitly stated.

    3. The Elders are mentioned but much more enigmatic — it’s a marketing trick. People feel more engaged if they ask you “What are the Elders?” vs. you telling them “The Elders did such-and-such.”

    4. Cut “The Spread” out entirely. It may be important, but it wasn’t really explained in the first version in significant detail anyway. Naming it seemed important to explaning the warlocks’ powers…but then I cut that bit out too, see next point.

    5. Removed some repetition/mirroring between 2nd/3rd paragraphs re: warlords/warlocks/sorcerors/cults.

    6. Cut out the aliens, somewhat regretably. I just don’t know what you meant by abtruse — even after looking it up. (If they’re “secret”, leave it out. If they’re “secretive”, put ‘em back in.)

  9. October 21st, 2010 at 16:57 | #9

    @deimos3428 : Not bad, though I’m finding it hard to get rid of the first Paragraph. But given your Second Point, maybe there’s another way to imply the setting’s History. I need to think about the Elders trick, but it has merit. The Spread? Hard to ditch, but maybe it’s more important in my Mind. It’s intentionally vague in the First Paragraph–few campaign inhabitants really understand It anyway, but it’s an important Historical foundation. Possible agreement on omitting the Farflung, mostly because their Role in the setting is as godlike heads of survivor cults (and, abstruse in the sense of hard to understand).

    Good edit, though I do like the history/present/what’s up? Arrangement of the 3-paragraph Format. Or is that my OCD? Or is this just about you and Proper Nouns?

  10. deimos3428
    October 21st, 2010 at 22:46 | #10

    Oh yeah, that article thing up there that you wrote about the three paragraphs and what they’re for… :blush: I insist I did read it, but my short-term memory loss will take on your OCD any day, sir.

    As for Proper Nouns…I don’t like them, and they don’t like me, but occasionally we work together.

  11. October 22nd, 2010 at 08:08 | #11

    @deimos3428 : Certainly, the 3-paragraph format is more a guideline. No doubt writers more disciplined than me can work effectively outside that boundary–I just crave structure. ;)

  12. October 22nd, 2010 at 10:27 | #12

    You could always take the other approach though, Erin. The elevator pitch sounds epic – like the start of a tale told by an elder around the camp fire, so why not dress it up as such?

    The other thing, which I think deimos is advocating, is swtiching to the two-paragrath approach where you have a situation, followed by what the PCs can do about it, putting the PCs right in the thick at the heart of the setting. It tends to take a lot of emphasis off the setting as being pre-defined, and more about it as being a catalyst for adventure.

  13. October 22nd, 2010 at 14:23 | #13

    @Da’ Vane : I’m thinking of the elevator pitch is more appropriate at the campaign level. Wouldn’t the Deimos approach be more appropriate for an individual adventure or a specific scenario in that campaign? IOW, the campaign pitch provides a wider framework (albeit suitably vague in all the right places) into which more specific adventures are contained.

  14. October 22nd, 2010 at 17:46 | #14

    @Erin D. Smale When you think about it, a campaign is just a series of adventures or scenarios, often aimed around a larger goal or motivation, so the deimos approach is equally applicable at campaign level if you make the goals big enough. Many GMs do not buy adventure modules, but do buy settings, and then run their own adventures based on the conflicts and plots within, often defined by the larger over-arching theme of the campaign.

    In this case, having the PCs find a way to discover the Spread, how to combat it, and so forth and bring back the prosperity of the before times is a rather good over-arching goal for a campaign, for instance.

    It occurs to me that there are similarities between the world of Trid and Spyredelve, one of the encounters in the upcoming DVOID Systems premier release, D-Jumpers Volume #1: The Gate to Adventure. There are differences, naturally, the largest being that Trid actually has civilization left on it, where as Spyredelve has no known inhabitants, but the similaries between the Spread and the Wyld sprang up almost instantly. Sounds like some good cross-over potential there…

    For those not following DVOID Systems blog (www.dvoidsystems.com) and not put off by this shameless plugging, we will be releasing this product for sale on October 31st (or more accurately, just AFTER October 31st, as I have a Halloween party I am hosting), along with a free copy of the Gate Keeper encounter. With a bit of luck and timing, Erin will also have Chimera RPG 3.0 Basic ready by this time, which we will be endorsing and including at DVOID Systems… /shameless plugging

  15. deimos3428
    October 25th, 2010 at 10:29 | #15

    I don’t know if I’d call it the “Deimos approach”…was just shooting from the hip.

  16. October 25th, 2010 at 11:06 | #16

    @deimos3428 : You wouldn’t call it that because you’re modest. And, to make the irony that much better, it should actually be called the Deimos Approach.


  17. October 25th, 2010 at 14:59 | #17

    “The Deimos Approach was discovered when…”

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